BCP Podcast No. 96: Eastland football announcer Slavens joins Evan, Dan

As the football voice of the Eastland Mavericks and the owner of several radio stations throughout the Big Country, Terry Slavens has been a part of area athletics for many years.

On Tuesday, Slavens took some time to chat with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood about his broadcasting career, the challenges he’s faced as a result of COVID-19 and the upcoming football season for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

BREAKING: Baker leaving Baird after two seasons

Joel Baker announced his resignation as the head coach and athletic director at Baird High School on Wednesday after accepting a job as the associate head coach and offensive coordinator at Springlake-Earth earlier in the day.

The decision to leave the Bears, who won the independent six-man state championship last fall, did not come easy for Baker. The veteran coach did say that he was making the move for his family, though.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Gonzales’ breakout season halted by virus

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

With the Big Spring Lady Steers losing a number of key performers in 2020, a number of question marks existed about whether coach Chelsey Jordan’s team could find enough players to pull up the slack. 

Junior utility Jocelyn Gonzales answered many of them on her own. 

Gonzales, who entered the COVID-19 lockdown with a .500 batting average through 18 games, was well on her way to establishing herself as one of the top players in the Big Country.  

“Last year she was hitting in the sixth or seventh hole for us,” Jordan said. “But she was clearly our four-hole hitter this year. … She just steps up. She’s very clutch and if you have people on base, she’s going to score them. 

“We were just dying for someone to be a leader and we pulled her aside. She said, ‘Gotcha coach’ and ran with it.” 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Stamford baseball was hoping to build on surprise playoff run

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Coming off a surprise run to the Region I-2A quarterfinals last spring, the Stamford baseball team entered this season hoping for a strong follow-up campaign.

And after a slow start out of the gate while some young players adjusted to new or bigger roles, the Bulldogs were headed for just that when play was stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regrouping from an 0-2-1 run at the Hamlin Rock Field Baseball Classic, Stamford evened its record at 3-3-1 with wins in three of its last four games, including victories over quality teams from Anson (5-4) and Windthorst (6-2). But before coach Kevin Bartley’s Bulldogs could parlay that momentum into something more substantial, the season was suspended and later canceled by the University Interscholastic League.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Hawley’s do-it-all Leathers may have been area’s top utility of 2020

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Breanna Leathers’ versatility and dependability were a comforting combination for Hawley’s Maci Clayton.

The first-year coach not only started the aptly named Leathers in center field, but she was the Lady Bearcats’ second pitcher to Caitlin Crow.

Because of that, Leathers didn’t see much time at shortstop, but that change didn’t keep the junior from being unprepared.

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EVAN REN: We can all use some good news and football can provide some of it

In a world that has seemingly gone mad, I’ll take any dose of good news that I can find — even if it’s mundane.

The stock market inched up a half point? I’ll take it. We can go back to worrying about COVID-19? I’m all-in. The buildings in Abilene are still standing? That’s a check mark in the plus column. 

So how do we get there? 

How do we reestablish normality? 

Aside from the obvious fact that we need to stop the ongoing mayhem that is plaguing our society, getting back to common things we all hold dear will set the foundation for healing. And I’m talking about the simplest of pleasures, from peaceful walks in the park, shopping in a mall, going to the movies or attending a sporting event. 

In Texas, the latter cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to football. 

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DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Region I-3A playoff race huge loss for this baseball junkie

Those who know me well know that I’m a “baseball guy” at heart.

I love football and basketball, but baseball’s my sport. It’s the one I played the longest and the one I follow most diligently now.

As a sportswriter, I enjoy covering all sports, but come springtime, there’s one I look forward to more than any other. And the baseball playoffs, in particular, have always held a special place in my heart.

So I had little trouble empathizing with our area players and coaches about the premature ending of the 2020 season as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. I was almost as heartbroken as they were when the University Interscholastic League pulled the plug on the season just a few weeks in.

There were so many things I was looking forward to watching and never got to see play out. And perhaps nothing climbed higher on that list than a Region I-3A playoff race that was shaping up to be one for the ages.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Eastland football coach/AD James Morton talks about dealing with the lockdown

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

While preparing for his fifth season as the head football coach/athletic director at Eastland, James Morton was anticipating a productive overall spring from the EHS athletic program.

That is, until the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent cancellation of all spring sports was imposed by the University Interscholastic League as a safety measure.

Morton, who has guided the Mavericks to a 34-14 record and four straight postseason appearances during his tenure, has since found himself stuck in wait-and-see mode with every other coach in Texas.

He has, however, been able to reflect on the pandemic, while drawing upon 28 seasons of head coaching experience to get him through it. He now sits with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren to speak about his approach.

Here are a few excerpts from that conversation: 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: After historic 2019 season, Clyde golfers were poised for more this spring  

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Fred Wendlick played golf for Clyde, where he graduated from high school in 1985, and has coached golf at his alma mater for the last 20 years. But last year was special.

The Clyde boys’ golf team qualified for state for the first time in school history.

“It’s all about the kids,” Wendlick said. “It was an incredible year. We had a great time down there (in Austin) at the state tournament. We played hard, and we improved the second day.”

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BCP Podcast No. 96: San Saba’s Andreas Aguirre discusses first year as AD, COVID chaos

Andreas Aguirre’s first year as San Saba’s head football coach and athletic director was a successful one by any measure. The Armadillo football team had another excellent campaign, and the basketball team made its first state tournament appearance in almost a century.

But the COVID-19 pandemic made for an abrupt finish to the 2019-20 school year and presented some new challenges for the former SSHS defensive coordinator. On Tuesday, Aguirre joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast to discuss those challenges and how he’s handling the COVID-19 shutdown.

EVAN REN: 10 things I’ll take away from the COVID-19 pandemic

I’ve always held to a personal axiom that perspective is everything. True or not, how we view a situation becomes the truth in our minds.
There’s no escaping it and every one of us has our own perspective

Well, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have changed my perspective in several ways on several different things. And for a middle-aged guy who is pretty well set in my ways, this is like the planets aligning.

I’ve managed to list my top 10 takeaways from lockdown, as they pertain to this website and what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Let’s dive in: 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Hamlin baseball keeping positive outlook despite shortened season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After watching a young team take a nice step forward last spring, Hamlin baseball coach Ryne Lucas had the 2020 season circled as the year his Pied Pipers would finally break through as a district title contender.

And with HHS sporting a top-10 ranking in Class 1A from txhighschoolbaseball.com at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, it wasn’t just those within the Hamlin city limits that felt bullish about this year’s Pipers.

Unfortunately, Hamlin’s season was cut short by the global pandemic just six games in. But Lucas saw enough during that 3-3 start to believe that the 2020 campaign — truncated though it may have been — could still go down as a positive turning point for his program.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Loaded Clyde softball team halted in the midst of promising season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

“Be Legendary.”

That’s the motto that Reagan Sewell’s Clyde softball program latched onto a couple years ago, cementing their legacy by winning a program-best 30 games.

This year’s Lady Bulldogs were prepared to make their own history. Led by seniors Kaitlyn Turner and Peyton Lee, Clyde was off to a 12-3-1 start against quality competition and highly ranked in the TGCA Class 3A poll.

Did the COVID-19 outbreak cost the Lady Bulldogs a trip to state? Clyde was certainly a Region I-3A favorite along with the likes of Brock and Bushland. 

“We had already accomplished so many goals personally and as a team,” Turner said. “Our chemistry on and off the field this year was astonishing. I believe we had the momentum and determination to be legendary this year.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Brownwood senior heartbroken over loss of his final golf season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Maci Reagan

While answering questions for his “What might have been” feature, Brownwood senior golfer Caden Reagan eventually broke down and became emotional. 

His dream of reaching the state tournament, all of the work he put in and all of the sacrifices he had made were wiped out in one fell swoop when the University Interscholastic League canceled all spring sports as a safety measure against the COVID-19 pandemic last month. 

Reagan, 18, isn’t alone in this. He is simply one of thousands of high school athletes across the country who saw their senior seasons ended by a virus that has now killed more than 340,000 people globally, including more than 96,000 in the US. 

For Reagan, however, there is an additional element of sadness, having battled with Perthes Disease since he was 10 years old. Few people have had more to overcome in order to simply compete, much less to have a shot at state. 

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DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Seniors’ response to COVID-19 shutdown one we all could learn from

The 2019-20 school year is officially over, and a new crop of seniors will soon be ushered into the “real world.”

In that way — and that way only — this year is like most before it. 

But anyone who’s been conscious the past three months knows this is not a normal year. The COVID-19 outbreak has made sure of that, impacting lives worldwide and, on a local level, stripping this graduation class of the pomp and circumstance typically reserved for graduating seniors.

While the virus itself has hit certain age groups harder than others, the effects of this global pandemic have spared no demographic. And among those most impacted in the Big Country have been the aforementioned seniors, who have not only lost their spring sport seasons (and had their athletic careers ended prematurely, in many cases) but have also lost many of the rights of passage and memories many associate with their final year of high school.

But if you think it’s all negative or just need some hope for the future, I would encourage you to check out our What Might Have Been feature series. Because revealed in these stories of the area players and teams most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown is a maturity that makes this group as well equipped as any I’ve seen to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Breckenridge standout sees a winter of rehab go to waste

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Since tearing the ACL in his right knee in a Sept. 6 football game at Comanche, Breckenridge senior Kooper Shook has been diligently working on rehabbing the injury in preparation for baseball. 

That has often involved three 130-mile trips per week to Southlake for physical therapy while patiently waiting for his doctor’s approval for him to suit up and get on a baseball diamond. 

Finally, the nod from his physician was only days away in March. The work he had put in would, at last, pay dividends. 

Then it happened.

Shook, along with every other high school athlete in Texas was sidelined indefinitely by the University Interscholastic League’s COVID-19 lockdown. By April 17, the lockdown had evolved into an outright cancellation of spring sports across the state as a safety measure, leaving Shook with no opportunity to compete as a high school player ever again. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Goldthwaite’s Medina, Jernigan made the most of their final track races

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

— Photos by Brennan Medina, Anne Jernigan and Ashley Spradley

Goldthwaite seniors Callie Jernigan and Kylee Medina heard what seemed like a bizarre message from their coach prior to running the 300-meter hurdles and 1600 meters, respectively, March 12 at the Llano track meet.

“I jokingly — more or less — told them this could be their final races. I never thought at the time that it really would be,” said Blake Ashmore, Goldthwaite’s first-year head girls’ track coach.

“We knew the NCAA had just canceled their basketball tournaments (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). We thought the season might get pushed back a little, but I don’t think any of us knew the heaviness of the situation at that moment,” Ashmore said.

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BCP Podcast No. 95: Breckenridge baseball coach Kevin Bartley joins Evan, Daniel

Breckenridge baseball coach Kevin Bartley had what may have been the best team in school history this season, but he and the Buckaroo faithful will never get to find out for sure thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown.

On Tuesday, Bartley took some time to chat with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood about this team, what he felt it was capable of and what he told his 10 seniors when the UIL’s spring sport cancellation ended their careers prematurely for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

EVAN REN: UIL announcement promising, but are we out of the woods just yet?

“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.”
— Elbert Hubbard

 In a Tweet released earlier today, the University Interscholastic League announced that it is actively working to allow schools to begin limited summer strength and conditioning and marching band activities on June 8. 

The mere sight of this announcement had me on the verge of challenging my 55-year-old frame to do a cartwheel for which it is ill-prepared to attempt. Because frankly, Texas without high school pigskin is like Texas without oxygen. 

The thought of its absence has been too bitter to contemplate. And in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve allowed myself to go down one rabbit hole after another — trying to discern information from disinformation, and political rhetoric from that which is concrete. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: AHS star Washington left quite an impression on coach, program

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Abilene High softball coach Jim Reese considers shortstop Alyssa Washington a once-in-a-career type player. 

And with a multi-decade coaching tenure that started on the baseball diamond and included a stretch with longtime major leaguer John Lackey, that’s no faint praise.

So to watch the future Texas Longhorn see her time at Abilene High cut short in the midst of a truly remarkable senior campaign was one of the tougher things Reese has had to do as a coach. And though he’s happy that Washington will get to continue her career in Austin and certain she’ll find success at the next level, he can’t help but wonder what the standout might have accomplished had her season not been derailed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Minus their senior seasons, three Lady Lions will press on with their track careers

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

The Brownwood girls track team didn’t shy away from lofty expectations this year. 

Aleyia Cotton, Trinity Jackson and Alyssa Couey competed at the sport’s grandest stage in 2019 and expected to qualify for state again.

While they didn’t get to finish their senior seasons, the trio of Lady Lions can take solace in the fact they’ll be competing at the next level together.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: De Leon softball may have broken new ground in 2020

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

While the De Leon softball program has developed a solid reputation in recent years as one of the Big Country’s consistent winners, the 2020 season may have represented a high-water mark. 

We’ll never know. 

In the wake of the University Interscholastic League’s COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent cancellation of all high school spring sports in the state of Texas, the Lady Cats will be left wondering what heights they may have reached this year for the rest of their lives.

With a talented corps of seniors — Micaela Miller, Kylea DeLaTorre, Coral Sparger and Brooke Stelter — and considerable early-season momentum, De Leon pushed through a difficult early season with a 9-4 overall record and a 2-0 start in District 9-2A. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Jim Ned Indians look ahead to brighter future

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

With the way his team was playing at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, Jim Ned baseball coach Ryan Lewis has every right be disappointed by the the abrupt and premature end to the Indians’ 2020 season.

Holding a 6-2 record with close losses to top-10 teams from Breckenridge (5-4) and Wall (5-3), Jim Ned was well on its way to building on the 20-10 mark and area-round playoff finish it achieved in 2019.

But rather than let that fact push him toward bitterness, Lewis has chosen to take a different — and perhaps surprising — posture. One of gratitude.

With no seniors on this year’s roster, the former Abilene High baseball coach was spared the types of heart-wrenching conversations many of his coaching friends have had to have with their veteran players. And though the Indians will never know just how good they might have been had this season continued uninterrupted, the horizon before them is every bit as bright as the one coronavirus put in the rearview.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Even Albany’s Faith is in uncharted territory during pandemic

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Albany’s Denney Faith is used to recognizing a challenge and then tackling that task head-on.

You don’t win 307 football games and get a field named in your honor without thriving in adverse situations.

But nothing in Faith’s first 33 years as the Lions’ head football coach could have prepared him for the uncertainty of leading an athletic program in the middle of a pandemic.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Merkel’s next track star lost a year of development

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

—Photos by Brit Pursley

The COVID-19 “What Might Have Been” story of Alyssa O’Malley is not one of an athlete losing her senior year of spring sports. It’s a story of a promising sophomore losing a season of development as a budding track and field star.

Kaydi Pursley, who did lose her senior spring sports season, rightfully earned the badge as Merkel’s star athlete in basketball and track this year. She averaged 17 points for the Merkel girls’ basketball team, which finished 22-8 last season and advanced to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. In track, the Abilene Christian University signee entered this year as a three-time state qualifier in the 300-meter hurdles and an 11-foot pole vaulter.

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BCP Podcast No. 94: First-year Snyder AD Wes Wood joins Evan, Daniel

Wes Wood has had en eventful and unusual first year as Snyder’s head football coach and athletic director.  After overcoming an 0-4 start to lead the Tigers to the playoffs in the fall, he’s seen the spring sport season abruptly ended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Wood took a few minutes to chat with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood about what he’s learned and how he’s approaching this unique period for the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Ballinger senior saw dreams of state evaporate

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of Ballinger ISD

Nearly every high school in America has at least one of them — an athlete with dreams of competing for a district, regional or state title that have come to a grinding halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ballinger is no different. 

Tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Big Country, some 56 miles south/southwest of Abilene, this quiet community of roughly 3,700 had high hopes for a productive athletic spring. 

Senior track standout Elyssa Korn-Flores was one of the top reasons why. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Standouts Buck, Philipp leave lasting mark on Wylie softball program

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After leading the Wylie softball team on a memorable ride to the Region I-5A semifinals a year ago as juniors, standouts Bailey Buck and Kaylee Philipp had big things planned for their final high school season.

And with their team sporting a 14-3 record and a top-20 statewide ranking in mid-March, they were well on their way to achieving those when the COVID-19 outbreak put an early end to their senior year.

Now the pair, who are part of a six-player senior class that was instrumental in making the Lady Bulldogs’ transition to Class 5A a successful one, can only imagine how this season might have turned out had it not been cut short by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

And their coach, Heather Collier, can’t help but be disappointed that two players who were so important to her program won’t get to finish their stellar careers in fitting fashion.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: New Dublin facilities and spring momentum will have to wait

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Bob Cervetto is patiently awaiting a return to normalcy.

Dublin’s athletic director and head football coach misses the hectic spring sports season. He misses watching his athletes competing and working out daily.  

“It scares me to death because you never know where your kids are going to be,” Cervetto said. “I’m just like every other coach in the state — I hope they are doing something.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 the only thing that stopped Dillos’ unlikely hoops run

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Alamodome Shoot-Around photo courtesy of San Saba ISD 

The San Saba Armadillos’ run to the UIL Class 2A Boys Basketball State Tournament was so unlikely, even their coach didn’t imagine it.

“I thought we had enough athleticism and skill to get to the regional tournament,” second-year Armadillos coach Mark Kyle said. “Once you get to regional, anything’s possible. But I never thought about us going to state.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Cooper seniors miss out on home game experience, chance at turnaround

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Sitting at 2-9 on March 10 after a 6-1 loss to Wichita Falls High in its district opener, the Cooper baseball team was off to a slower start than it was hoping for when play was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

But with the start of the Abilene ISD Tournament — and the Cougars’ first opportunity to play on their newly renovated home field — slated for March 12, there was a shared sense of optimism among coach Cody Salyers and his players.

The Coogs, who have typically finished stronger than they’ve started under Salyers, had all of their biggest games and goals ahead of them. And the chance to become the first CHS team to play its home games under lights and on a turf field had them riding a wave of excitement into the meat of their schedule.

Unfortunately for Salyers’ squad, that chance never came. And thanks to the global pandemic that forced the University Interscholastic League to suspend and later cancel all spring sporting events, it never will for the team’s five seniors.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Stamford’s Price missed his chance at attendance perfection

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Those who follow Big Country high school athletics are likely familiar with the name of Trace Price — first as a Baird High School multi-sport standout. Then, as a starting quarterback and All-Big Country Preps basketball player as a senior at Stamford this school year. 

They will soon know him as a tight end on the Abilene Christian University football team when he suits up for the Wildcats this fall. 

Behind the scenes, however, Price was quietly on course to do something remarkable when the COVID-19 lockdown was implemented in March by the UIL. From pre-kindergarten to the point of the lockdown, he had never missed a single day of school — not one. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Wall softball was hitting stride when season was halted

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Jen Kleman

It’s not how you start, but how you finish. 

While the Wall softball team will never know how 2020 would have played out, the progress made before its season was halted certainly had everyone optimistic.

Healthier than they’d been all year, the Lady Hawks captured district victories over San Angelo TLCA and Brady when the coronavirus shut down their momentum. Officially, Wall finished with a 6-13 record, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Trips to state in multiple sports stopped suddenly for HHS Gonzales

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Makia “Kiki” Gonzales claims she knew nothing about the shot put when she began throwing it in the seventh grade.

“I knew nothing except the slide, you know where you move sideways across the ring to throw it,” the Hermleigh senior said. “My coaches tried to get me to try another release like the spin, but I was comfortable with the slide. So we worked on getting lower in the ring so I could use all my strength from my arms and legs when I threw.”

Gonzales blossomed into a 5-foot-11 athlete with plenty of quickness, strength and power — all key ingredients for the shot put. She qualified for the UIL Class 1A State Track and Field Meet in the shot put as a freshman, sophomore and junior — finishing eighth, fourth and fourth, respectively. She threw her best of 39 feet, 7 inches at the 2019 regional meet.

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BCP Podcast No. 93: Evan, Daniel catch up with Hamlin AD Russell Lucas

Hamlin football coach/athletic director Russell Lucas has had one interesting year, leading the Pied Pipers to their first state championship game appearance before seeing the COVID-19 pandemic end the 2019-20 athletic year prematurely. 

On Tuesday, he joined Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood to discuss his experiences and his approach to the coronavirus shutdown for this week’s Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Highly productive Cisco spring halted for first-year football coach

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

New Cisco football coach Kevin Stennett.

As if it weren’t tough enough for first-year Cisco football coach Kevin Stennett, he now has to sit patiently, waiting to be given the green light to get his players back into their offseason program. 

Since the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the University Interscholastic League in March and subsequent cancellation of all spring sporting events announced last month, the man chosen to replace Big Country legend Brent West is stuck with his feet in UIL concrete until further notice. 

As one can imagine, he’s chomping at the bit. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Experienced Bulldogs had high hopes for district

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Linda Moody 

Sitting at 7-1-1 when this season was stopped by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Coahoma baseball team’s record was almost identical to the 6-2-1 mark the Bulldogs had posted in nondistrict play the year before.

But first-year head coach Chris Arista and his players were convinced this group was different from the 2019 squad that closed its campaign with a 3-9 run through District 5-3A.

With nine seniors on its 17-player roster, Coahoma was the most experienced team in a league that also featured Clyde, Jim Ned, Anson and Merkel. And as such, the Bulldogs were determined to take a step forward after losing out to Merkel for the fourth playoff spot last spring.

Unfortunately, due to the University Scholastic League’s April 17 decision to cancel all spring sports, they never got that opportunity. And while Arista firmly believes his team was destined for success, he’ll never quite know just how things might have played out under different circumstances.   

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Bearcats never got to enjoy fruits of tough pre-district schedule

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Madisyn Stone

Judging solely by its record, it would be easy to underestimate the potential the De Leon baseball team possessed in 2020.

Sitting at 3-5 when the COVID-19 outbreak stopped their season in its tracks, the Bearcats hardly had the type of win-loss mark you’d expect from a two-time defending district champion that was gearing up for a run at its third in a row.

But records can be deceiving, and that was certainly the case for De Leon, which had played six of its first eight games against larger competition in preparation for its District 6-2A schedule. With pre-district matchups against Class 4A playoff teams from China Spring and Glen Rose, as well as Class 3A No. 1 Brock, the Bearcats were put through a ringer that first-year head coach Ricky Barrett was certain would pay off in time.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Ballinger team was hoping for prolific 2020 season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of  Chad McDufee, Dana Travis and Don Pena

Fantastic.

That one word is how Ballinger softball coach Missy Vaughn described the Lady Cats’ 2020 season before it was prematurely ended.

Vaughn’s seniors had thrived in their leadership positions. Even after junior pitcher Daniella Luna suffered a season-ending knee injury, freshman April Pena had stepped up admirably in her place. 

Sophomore catcher Jenna Battle and her teammates were ripping the cover off the ball. Other underclassmen had emerged as Ballinger won nine of its first 13 games and was undefeated in district.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Sweetwater softball was on verge of unlikely breakout season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

The Sweetwater Lady Mustangs were unlikely candidates for a breakout softball season in 2020.

Sweetwater lost six senior starters from last year’s team that finished 4-4 in District 5-4A and lost to Vernon in bi-district, and the 2020 Lady Mustangs had only one senior in center fielder Blayke Bewley. They also started four freshmen, including their top two pitchers — Elliana Perez and Jenika Fuentes.

But by the time the 2020 season was stopped March 13 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweetwater had put together a 13-5 record, gained a No. 25 statewide ranking in Class 4A and was poised to challenge for the District 5-4A title.

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EVAN REN: Virus may teach us some appreciation (for a while)

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
— Voltaire 

There’s a barbeque place near my home that I don’t like. In fact, I seldom go there — deliberately bypassing it whenever the BBQ craving hits me in favor of better choices. 

But Friday, after two months of COVID-19 exile, I decided to make a quick run to bring home some brisket for the wife and I and elected to go to the very place I try to avoid because it was convenient. 

Funny how one’s perspective can change while in isolation.

Abilene’s worst barbeque was suddenly good. In fact, it was beyond good. It was like freakin’ nirvana. 

I suspect that’s the way it’s going to be with virtually everything I had taken for granted before the lockdown. And I’m already experiencing some of it.

Continue reading “EVAN REN: Virus may teach us some appreciation (for a while)”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Sans seniors, No. 1 Brock baseball was still state threat

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

During a time when most coaches throughout the area, state and country are having to wish premature farewells to the seniors on their rosters, Brock’s Hart Hering is thankful to have dodged that most painful of bullets.

The only senior slated to return for the Eagles’ 2020 baseball team, pitcher/utility man Caleb Satterfield, transferred to Pecos for the spring, leaving Hering with a squad full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

But if you think that made it any easier to step away from the 8-1-1 start that had garnered Brock the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A from Txhighschoolbaseball.com, you would be mistaken. Ever the competitor, Hering was looking forward to putting his young bunch up against senior-led state hopefuls from Bushland (No. 2), Breckenridge (No. 3) and Wall (No. 7), and he shared those teams’ pain when the University Interscholastic League announced it would be canceling all spring sports in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Price forced to put football and promising spring on back burner

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

For much of his career, 39-year-old Daniel Price had been patiently waiting to get his shot. 

He had long wished to be the man on the headset, manning the sidelines in crucial situations and leading a football program of his very own.

In February, he was given that opportunity when Early ISD named him to replace athletic director and head football coach Blake Sandford, who resigned in December.

All the pieces were in place. All that was needed was to develop a plan and implement it.

Then it happened — a statewide lockdown of all high school spring sports implemented in by the University Interscholastic League in March as a safety measure against the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Middleton, Comanche boys golf team lose shot at state

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

This spring was supposed to be Kasey Middleton’s fourth trip to the state golf tournament as he hoped to bookend his high school career with a second title.

It was supposed to be Bryce Hermesmeyer’s triumphant return to golf after missing last year with a shoulder injury.

And with a couple freshmen helping step up and a low score of 316 despite playing in only three tournaments, it was supposed to end with a second state berth in three years for Comanche’s boys golf team.

But before the Indians could find a groove, their promising season came to an end after the COVID-19 pandemic altered the University Interscholastic League high school sports landscape. That’s hard for Comanche golf coach Richard Pringle to stomach.

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BCP Podcast No. 92: Haskell AD Brian Hodnett brings positive outlook during uncertain time

When he arrived at Haskell before the 2017-18 school year, Brian Hodnett brought a positive, high-energy style that has served him well as the Indians’ football coach and athletic director.

On Tuesday, he brought those same qualities to a discussion with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood for the the Capital Farm Credit Wednesday Night Podcast.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Goldthwaite golfers lose chance to defend state title

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Mike Lee

Rance House was optimistic the solitary environment of high school golf eventually would give the Goldthwaite Eagles a chance to defend their Class 2A boys’ state championship.

“I know the UIL has lawsuits and all that legal stuff to deal with, but I was really pulling for golf,” said House, a Goldthwaite senior who also played baseball in the spring. “Golf is a sport where you don’t have to touch anybody. You use your own club and balls.

“You’re playing in small groups with two or three other people, and there are not a lot of people (spectators) around. There’s just a lot less interaction with other people in golf than in other sports. But I guess if you cancel one sport, you’ve got to cancel them all.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Lady Pirates were prepping for run at state title

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

A year after finishing second at the University Interscholastic League girls Class 1A state golf tournament last year, the Eula Lady Pirates were looking ahead to 2020 with an eye on a possible state championship. 

And with good reason. 

Coach Darren Carson’s team had graduated only one player, its top golfers were coming back and the Lady Pirates were introducing a talented freshman to the team. 

At the time of the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the UIL last month, Eula had already broken the school record for the lowest team round (345), which made the state tournament record of 351 an inviting target to shoot for. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Loaded Ira Bulldogs felt this was their year

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

When you’ve been in coaching as long as Toby Goodwin has, you know what an elite team looks like. 

So when the Ira coach says this year’s Bulldogs had a baseball state tournament appearance in their sights, he’s not just blowing smoke.

Unfortunately, neither he, his players or the Ira community will ever get a chance to find out just how good this year’s squad was. And instead of being remembered as the group that finally broke through for an Ira program that has been knocking at the door for years, the 2020 Bulldogs will be the one that (only) COVID-19 took down.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Baseball in the blood for Rotan’s Van Poppel

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Trish Hurt, Double Mountain Chronicle

With the last name he has, Cole Van Poppel was almost destined to end up on a pitcher’s mound.

For the Rotan senior and nephew of former major-leaguer Todd Van Poppel, baseball — and pitching, in particular — runs in the blood.

So to say it was tough to have his final high school season — and final opportunity to lead the Yellowhammers to the playoffs — cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak and the University Interscholastic League’s subsequent decision to cancel the 2020 spring sports season, is a fairly sizable understatement.

And though the opportunity to continue his career at Temple College and memory of pitching a perfect game in his final high school start serve as some consolation, part of him will always be left to wonder what might have been.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Cisco, Adams had lofty goals in 2020

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Coming off an 18-6 season that saw them capture the District 6-3A title, the Cisco Loboes and coach Mark Adams had high hopes heading into the 2020 campaign and were equipped to pursue them. 

That is, until the rug was pulled out from under them by the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown and cancellation of all spring sporting events by the University Interscholastic League as a safety measure. 

In the process, four Cisco seniors — Gibson Hearne, Stanley Callahan, Cam Nichols and Dawson White — have seen their high school athletic careers forever placed on a speculative shelf, with no way to confirm the potential many saw in them.

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